Sexuality, gender identity and teenagers

people standing at chalk rainbow
people standing at chalk rainbow

people standing at chalk rainbow

Teenage years are a time when many young people start to discover their sexuality and gender identity. While this is a common part of teenage life, it can also be a confusing time for young people and their families. Find out more about the concepts of sexuality and gender that your child might be dealing with, how to support them during this time, and how to recognise any signs that they may need your support.

This can help if you:

  • want to know more about sexuality and gender identity, and how your child might be exploring these
  • want to know how to talk to your child and support them during this process
  • want to be able to recognise any signs of distress.

What sexuality or gender identity issues could your child be dealing with?

Your child may be trying to figure out whether they are heterosexual, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Or, they might identify with something that is outside of these ’standard’ definitions.  Your child could feel confused, worried, angry or upset about their emerging sexuality or gender. They might be concerned about how it could affect their life and worry about being accepted by their family, friends and peers.

What to think about when you talk to your child about sexuality

While it may be confronting to hear your child talking about these issues, it’s important to create a safe space where they feel comfortable and supported. Here are some points to think about when talking to your child:

  • Remember that while it might be a challenging time for you both, your child will probably also feel excited, relieved and happy to be talking to you about what they are experiencing. Listening and providing support will help to build trust and strengthen your relationship.
  • Recognise that it has probably taken a lot of courage for them to speak up, respect their decision to do so.
  • Realise that working through these concepts can be confusing for you both, so try to avoid any judgements and stay open minded to keep the lines of communication open and ensure your child feels supported and accepted.

Knowing when to get help

Working out your identity and worrying about where you ‘fit in’ can be a challenging time for teenagers, and can cause anxiety, distress and a sense of isolation.

 In addition, bullying is common for same-sex attracted and gender questioning people, with 80% admitting they have experienced bullying and discrimination at some point in their life. This can be a stressful time for your child and, if ongoing, can lead to mental health problems such as depression. You can help your child by recognising signs of distress, which may include:

  • being withdrawn from others, or losing interest in usual activities
  • changes in behaviour like being irritable and moody
  • feeling constantly tired or experiencing changes in usual sleeping patterns
  • appearing restless or anxious, or expressing feelings of worry or hopelessness
  • physical symptoms such as a stomach ache or headache.

If you think that your child is experiencing issues with sexuality or gender you can find ways to support them here.

However, if they are feeling distressed and it is impacting their ability to function contact the services below.

Page last review by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on